Photography Critique #1

Learn photography through a friendly and constructive photography critique. In this video, I share my thoughts on a lovely HDR photo called Carmel Evening, offering tips for focusing, depth of field, post processing and composition.

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Video Transcript

We are shaking things up today! Instead of my usual tip, I'm going to be doing a photo critique. Hi, I'm Julie from Ultimate Photo Tips, and today I'm going to be offering my feedback on a lovely image called "Carmel Evening," submitted by one of our readers, Ron Kelman.

So, first of all, thank you so much Ron for being brave, and for sending in your image for a photography critique.

Secondly, please remember: these are just my opinions, and I am by no means the final authority on all of this. But I do hope that you'll find some value in the thoughts I have to share and that you'll be able to learn something that you can apply to your own photography.

So, without further ado, here is Ron's image, "Carmel Evening."

photography critique
© Ron Kelman
Carmel Evening

Now that you've had a chance to absorb Ron's image, I thought I would pull it into Lightroom so I can fool around with it as I comment.

Photography Critique: What I like about this image!

The first thing I want to say is that there are three elements that are really beautiful and that I really enjoy in this image. The first one is the sky, going from an orange into a deep blue, and with the pink clouds throughout. In fact the light overall in the image is just terrific. So, Ron, you were definitely there at the right time to capture this! The second thing I really like is that rock formation. It's something visually interesting, a little bit unusual, and it gives a great anchor for the image. And then the third thing that I like is this path that comes in from the bottom right of the image, and winds its way into the image and leads us to that rock. So, kudos to you, Ron, for finding these three elements, for being there at the right time, and combining everything in one image.

Photography Critique: My biggest issue with this image

I think the biggest issue I have with this image is the foreground material; all of this in the bottom left here. It takes up quite a substantial portion of the image, but unfortunately, it's just not sharp. When you have something close to you that's soft, and something further away that's sharp in the image, it really bothers our eyes, because we don't see that way. It's really critical to get foreground material like this sharp.

Now I know you were on a tripod, Ron, because you told me in your comments that you took three separate exposures and combined them together to create an HDR image in Photomatix. Also, I can see that the rock and the grass in front is quite sharp, so I know that this blur in the foreground is not caused by anything like camera shake. My guess is that it's just caused by where you chose to focus, and it looks like that was up on the rock.

Photography Critique: Focal point and aperture for depth of field

What you need to do in a situation like this is focus somewhere on the closer foreground material to make sure that it's sharp. Then let depth of field take care of the rest, in getting sharpness all the way through to the back. Depth of field is controlled by aperture, so you want to make sure that your aperture is small enough that you have enough depth of field. In the exposure that I see, when I look at the metadata, it tells me that your aperture was set at f/4.0. That's pretty wide open, and since you're on a tripod, you could handle a little bit slower shutter speed, and stop down your aperture, maybe to f/11, and really guarantee that everything is sharp from the foreground, all the way through to the background.

photography critique
© Ron Kelman
Carmel Evening: problem area

Photography Critique: HDR artifact

Now the other thing that I'm noticing in this image, is that there's something funny going on in this area here. Since I know this is an HDR combining three images, I'm guessing that it's something Photomatix is doing that's creating this artifact. You may want to revisit this and try to clean it up a little bit.

Photography Critique: Cropping to simplify and strengthen composition

Given that this is the image that we have, I would like to show you how I might crop it to really strengthen the composition and pull out those three elements that I like so much. I'm going to go into Lightroom's cropping tool here. If I hold down the shift key as I crop, I'm going to preserve the aspect ratio.

To me, the left side of the image over here doesn't add a lot to the story. To me that story is the path leading up to the rocks, with that beautiful sky. So I'm going to eliminate a lot of the left side. I'm going to try to eliminate a lot of the foreground to get rid of that out of focus material. So I'm going to come in quite a lot, and I'm going to move this down. Now, I'm going to this down a little extra. You see this material here in the foreground? I'm going to try to not include that in my final version because I don't want anything blocking the eye from entering this path and moving into the image. So I'm going to come up until that's out of the image. Now, I think I can still crop in some more, and I'll bring it back down again, somewhere around here, I think. What I've been able to do here is pull the rock formation off-center a little bit (it was quite central in the original image) and put it more in the thirds position. Then the other place where that tic tac toe grid intersects becomes the end of that path, so I've got a little bit of counter-balance here. The other thing to notice is that the horizon is just about at the thirds position. It doesn't have to be exactly there. But it's off-centre, which I like a little bit more because this is NOT a balanced, stable image, so having things off-centre seems to work. So let's do that crop and take a look at what we've got.

photography critique
© Ron Kelman
Carmel Evening, with edits by Julie

To me, this simplifies the image a lot. It gets rid of a lot of that other material that is really just distracting us from these three beautiful elements.

Now that we've cropped a lot of that foreground out, which was quite dark, we have a little bit of room to bump up the contrast, so I'm going to add black in just until I clip, and then back it off again so there's nothing blocked up. And if you want, you can play a little bit with the tone curve and just add a little bit more contrast in if you want; just to give it a little bit more pop.

So, that would be my crop, and how I'd like to see you approach something like this, and simplify, simplify, simply the image down to the most significant compositional elements. So this is my after. I'm going to flip back for a second to the original. I think once you see that, that rock becomes almost overwhelmed by all the extra foreground material and space around it, whereas in this final image, we've gotten rid of all that so you're paying attention to the most beautiful parts of the photo.

Thanks once again to Ron Kelman for sharing his image with us for a photography critique. For more great tips to improve your photography, please come on over and visit me at, and sign up for my newsletter while you're there!

I hope you enjoyed this photography critique! Thanks for watching, and I'll see you next time!


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